At a glance
Area: 392 sq km.
Location: Kajiado District, Rift Valley Province. The park (Meshanani Gate) is 230 km from Nairobi and lies close to the Tanzanian border and Mount Kilimanjaro.
Altitude: 1,100-1,200 m above sea level.
Gazetted: established as a reserve in 1968 and gazetted as a National Park in 1974.
Vegetation: semi-arid acacias and grasses with papyrus sedges in the swamplands.
Climate: hot and dry, the park lies in the rain shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. The rainy seasons are usually April/May and November/December.
Fauna: includes: lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, zebra, hippo, spotted and striped hyena, Maasai giraffe, oryx, wildebeest, gerenuk, impala and Grant’s gazelle.
Birds: more than 425 species have been recorded.
Roads: 4WD is recommended, especially during the rainy seasons.
Distance from Nairobi: 230 km south of Nairobi.
Once part of the Great Southern Game Reserve, Amboseli is one of Kenya’s earliest game sanctuaries; it is also one of her most popular attracting over 200,000 tourists per year. Towered over by the magnificent bulk of 5,896 m high Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, Amboseli is comparatively compact and dotted with emerald green swamps in which great herds of elephants can often be seen half-submerged amongst the papyrus grasses, Blessed with panoramic vistas and stunning backdrops it is world-famous as a venue revered by Hollywood professionals and amateur photographers alike.
Lake Amboseli and the swamps
The park covers part of a Pleistocene era lake basin, now dry. Within this basin is a non-permanent lake known as Lake Amboseli, from which the park takes its name (Amboseli means ‘salt dust’ in Maa, the language of the Maasai). Easily flooded during times of heavy rainfall, the lake is fed by underground streams that flow from Mt Kilimanjaro to rise in a series of lush papyrus Cyperus papyrus swamps. These are surrounded by tracts of Acacia xanthophloea (more commonly known as ‘fever tree’) woodland while open Acacia tortilis woodland also occurs along drainage lines in the southern part of the park. The basin is surrounded by Acacia-commiphora bushland, while the alkaline soils of the lake floor support thickets of Salvadora persica and Suaeda monoica. During the dry seasons the heat creates a series of shimmering mirages over the lake basin and, because the swamps are the only source of permanent water and the park’s major watering points, they attract large concentrations of wildlife at this time.
What to see
Amboseli is world-famous for its populations of large mammals. The swamps are a centre of activity for elephants, hippos, buffaloes and abundant water birds. The surrounding flat grasslands are home to grazing antelopes. Spotted hyenas are plentiful, as are jackals, warthogs, olive baboons and vervet monkeys. No longer present in their original numbers, lions can still be found in Amboseli though the famous black-maned lions have long since disappeared, as have the black rhinos that were once so plentiful.
Over 400 bird species
Bird life is abundant, especially in the vicinity of the lakes and swamps where a great variety of water birds may be seen. Over 425 bird species have been recorded here, including over 40 species of birds of prey, amongst which are two great rarities, the Taita falcon and the southern banded harrier eagle. Several species of global conservation concern occur, including lesser kestrel, small numbers of non-breeding Madagascar squacco herons and lesser flamingo in variable numbers. Perhaps the most frequently seen and easily identified of the park’s birds, however, is the aptly named superb starling with its gorgeous iridescent plumage and fearless behavior. Grey-crowned cranes are also frequent visitors to the plains.
One of the high points of the park, Observation Hill towers above a small car park and its summit is accessed by a winding stone stairway. Once at the top the views are tremendous, the photo opportunities countless and, as the sun begins its descent, it provides one of East Africa’s finest sundowner venues.
Wildlife highlights: lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant, zebra, hippo, spotted and striped hyena, giraffe, oryx, wildebeest, gerenuk, impala and Grant’s gazelle. Birds: 425 recorded species.